Malaysia refusing to issue new visas for foreign non-Muslim clerics


KUALA LUMPUR - NON-MUSLIM religious groups said on Tuesday that Malaysia is refusing to issue new visas for foreign priests, in the latest eruption of ethnic discord in the multicultural nation.

Foreign priests already in the country have only been given six-month renewals and told they must leave after expiry, said the head of the Malaysian Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism.

Indian community affected
The council's president A. Vaithilingam said the restrictions mostly affected ethnic Indian Hindus, who have been at the centre of a discrimination row, and that there would now not be enough priests to conduct prayers.

'We want an explanation from the prime minister and the government on this,' Mr Vaithilingam told reporters.

'Why are they carrying out the sudden action to restrict foreign priests from practicing in the country when there are millions of foreign workers who are allowed to work here,' he said.

Mr Vaithilingam, who is also president of the leading Hindu organisation the Malaysian Hindu Sangam, said that about 200 Hindu priests were the majority of foreign clergy here, but that there are also some Buddhists and Taoists.

He said visas for temple musicians have also been reduced from one year to six months while temple sculptors have had their permits reduced from six months to one week.

'I am shocked because normally Immigration has a talk with us before changing any policy and this has happened without any discussion,' he said.

Immigration department officials confirmed that the visas issued to priests were being restricted but refused to give details.

Mr Vaithilingam said that major temples like the one at Batu Caves, on the fringes of the capital Kuala Lumpur and a major tourist attraction, would be hard hit.

'These priests are important as they carry out special prayers and rituals and so it will be difficult at places like Batu Caves to have big prayers and people will not be able to pray the way they need to,' he said

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